ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, AUG. 25-26 - This Aug. 14, 2012 file photo shows Mark Sanchez, left, and Tim Tebow set to throw during drills at New York Jets training camp in Cortland, N.Y. Two-quarterback systems have rarely worked, but the Jets plan to test that theory with Sanchez and Tebow this season. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli, File)A2012
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – All eyes have been on the New York Jets.
Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan have been in the headlines for months. After all, the NFL's most talked-about bunch is fascinating, entertaining and controversial. Now, the Jets will find out if that translates into a winning combination.
"It's a big year for all of us," Sanchez said. "We're all ready just to start playing again. I think the guys are excited. I said it earlier in spring that there's just a good vibe around here. So, regardless of any outside pressure, we're putting a lot of pressure on each other, on ourselves, so it's good."
Sanchez has certainly felt it for a while now. From his feud with Santonio Holmes last season that highlighted a locker room of dissension to the Jets' flirting with the idea of going after Peyton Manning and then deciding to trade for Tebow. And that was after Sanchez received a contract extension.
While Manning has been a major preseason story line in Denver, there has been perhaps no other quarterback situation followed as closely as the Jets' dynamic — and potentially combustible — duo of Sanchez and Tebow. The Jets have insisted for months — since they acquired Tebow from the Broncos in March — that Sanchez is the undisputed starter at quarterback with Tebow a do-it-all backup who'll have a major role in Tony Sparano's offense.
As much as people are trying to make it a quarterback controversy, it's not.
- Rex Ryan, Jets' Head Coach
"As much as people are trying to make it a quarterback controversy, it's not," Ryan said. "Mark is our starting quarterback, and Tim is an excellent football player."
But some are skeptical that the two can coexist, with many fans and media speculating that Tebow will eventually supplant Sanchez as the starter. Some have even predicted it will happen by Week 6, after a few tough matchups with solid defenses such as Buffalo, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Houston.
For now, Tebow will work in some wildcat-style packages that the Jets have yet to unveil in a game, and serve as the personal punt protector on special teams. Pretty unusual for a quarterback who was a Heisman Trophy winner in college and took the league by storm last year with several dramatic comeback victories.
"I don't know that I necessarily think like a lot of other quarterbacks do," Tebow said. "I just think whatever I can do to help this team I'm going to do — have a great attitude, be a great teammate."
Tebow has said all the right things since coming to New York, and so has Sanchez. And the Jets think having Tebow will be worth all the attention, especially when he gets rolling in the wildcat.
"You have Rex, who from the day he walked through the door has said defending 11-man football is hard — when the quarterback can run the ball, that's hard," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "You have Tony, who coached him at the Senior Bowl and obviously had success with the wildcat in Miami. So, from a football standpoint, the interesting part of that trade is that it made sense from both sides of the ball. You have a defensive play caller who can't defend it and an offensive play caller who has had success with it."
But the focus in Week 1 will be whether the Jets' offense — Sanchez, Tebow or whoever — can get into the end zone. The starters, along with Tebow, went three preseason games without scoring a touchdown to become the first team since the 1977 Atlanta Falcons to do so.
The Jets aren't concerned by the offensive ineptitude, saying it's still only preseason and that the playbook hasn't been fully opened. Well, we'll see how different things look when they kick it off for real against Buffalo on Sept. 9.
"We just feel like there's good stuff right around the corner," Sanchez said.
That's reassuring, especially to the defense, which figures to be the strength of this year's team which is looking for a return to the postseason after going 8-8 last year. Ryan believes this unit has a chance to be special, and it starts with the defensive line which is deeper than it has been in any of Ryan's previous three seasons with first-round pick Quinton Coples joining Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets' top choice last year, and veterans Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito.
"Numbers-wise, we think we'll be in the top 5 because that's what you go on," Ryan said. "Will we have the best defense in the league? I don't know. There are a lot of good defenses out there. I certainly think putting out that kind of defense is a goal of ours every year. We'll see. I feel good."
Ryan's improved secondary is another reason. All-Pro Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie form perhaps the league's top cornerback tandem, and the safety position was revamped by bringing in veterans LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell. The two are hard-hitting presences who might help the Jets defend better against an increasing number of teams relying on tight ends — including AFC East-rival New England.
"I was talking with Revis, and I was like, 'You know, right now it seems like we're dialed in on the communication part of the game, and that's huge,'" Ryan said. "That's when you can play fast. Even your young defensive linemen are getting into it. We're seeing very few mental mistakes over there. That allows you to play faster."
But the Jets know this season will likely come down to how Sanchez performs, and whether he and Tebow can cause headaches for opposing defenses — instead of double trouble in New York.
"I think more than anything, your No. 1 goal has to be how can we win games and how can we make this team better?" Tebow said. "And I think if that's your No. 1 goal, I think it can definitely work out."